But it was NMCC keeping its hot streak going as it defeated the Mules 80-70 at NMCC High School.
The Eagles (10-6, 3-2 SEMO Conference) dominated the Mules for three quarters, but Poplar Bluff erased a 24-point deficit and got as close as six points with two shots at making it a one-possession game in the final minute.
The Eagles were able to hold on for an impressive victory against the red-hot Mules, which entered the contest having won 12 of its last 13 games.
"We took their best punches," NMCC coach Travis Day said. "We made some silly mistakes, but we finished. That's what I told the guys, I said, 'guys, it's a win, we take it. Am I happy with the win? Yes and no. It wasn't clean.' As a coach, it's never like you want it. You try to teach the guys to be perfect."
NMCC, also surging with wins in eight of its last nine games, appeared to be on the verge of blowing out the Mules. The Eagles opened up a 46-26 halftime lead and led by as much as 55-31 in the third quarter.
But the Mules (13-4, 1-1 SEMO) hung around and were able to force numerous Eagle turnovers to get back in the game.
"The game got a little sloppy for New Madrid, I mean they could've buried us," first-year Poplar Bluff coach William Durden said. "I can't fault our kids, they played hard and fought hard in the second half. But you can't dig yourself a 20-point hole in the first half and expect to come back. It's tough."
The Eagles built the lead on the shoulders of guard Willie Jimerson, who has established himself as one of the premier players in the area this season.
The quick, 5-foot-9 sophomore has been lighting up scoreboards all year, scoring a career-high 41 points last Friday against Portageville.
For an encore, he scored 36 points against Poplar Bluff on Tuesday.
"He's hard to guard," Durden said. "I didn't know how well he shot it. He's a scorer and he shot it well tonight, but he puts the ball on the floor well and we couldn't keep anybody in front of him."
Jimerson scored in a variety of ways, whether it was the four 3-pointers he hit, driving to the goal and hanging, adjusting and contorting in mid-air, or his 10 for 10 free throw shooting.
The Mules simply had no answers for Jimerson.
"Everybody thinks he really shoots a lot, but he really doesn't shoot a whole lot," Day said. "We've worked on him taking the right shots and I think he did that tonight. The 3's he took, he was wide open. And when we need him to attack the basket, he attacked the basket. He's playing well for us. Now we've got to get that three, four, five, six, and seven guys to get better as the season goes along."
The Eagles never trailed in the game, jumping out to a 5-0 lead and taking a 22-11 first quarter advantage after Jimerson was fouled on a 3-point shot at the buzzer. He sank all three free throws.
The Eagles continued to dominate in the second quarter, out-scoring the Mules 21-15 in the period to lead 46-26 at the half.
The Mules, after falling behind by 24, were able to cut the lead to 67-49 entering the fourth quarter.
Sloppy ball-handling by the Eagles contributed to the Mules' run.
NMCC finished with 21 turnovers in the game.
"It was us and them," Day said. "They turned up their pressure more and we panicked. Instead of slowing the game down in our mind and doing the same stuff we did in the first half and running our press-breaker, we let them speed us up and we went haywire."
Poplar Bluff, still trailing 72-57 after a Darrin McGloson slam dunk, went on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 72-65 with 4:28 left in the game.
The Eagles responded with baskets by Jimerson and Delontre Haney to extend the lead to 11.
But two free throws by Chris Stocks and a Ryan Brittingham 3-pointer trimmed the lead to 76-70 with 1:11 left in the game.
"We got after them and we actually attacked the basket," Durden said. "In the first half they kind of bothered our kids a little bit by blocking our shots. In the second half we actually went in and pump-faked and stuck it in those nose and we just played harder."
Poplar Bluff's Joseph Eyler had a 3-point attempt that barely rimmed out with 47 seconds left that could have cut the lead to three.
That was the Mules' last chance.
NMCC was able to overcome three consecutive missed one-and-one free throw opportunities in the final minute as Jimerson helped seal the deal with an offensive put-back and two free throws.
"It's a good win for us -- it wasn't pretty, but Bluff is not a bad team," Day said. "I told the guys at halftime, 'guys, they're going to come at us. We've got to be able to handle their run and finish it.' We did that in spots and sometimes we got ahead of ourselves and started making silly mistakes."
The Mules defeated NMCC 61-59 back in the SEMO Conference Tournament in December, but Durden says the Eagles are a different team since the early-season contest.
"They've gotten a lot better since we played them early in the year," Durden said. "They've got a lot more confidence now, they're attacking the basket more and they're playing harder on defense. They're going to be tough in their district."
Poplar Bluff was led by Stocks with 17 points. Stacy Gipson, a 6-7 junior, finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and seven blocked shots.
After Jimerson's big day, NMCC saw Armondo Thatch, Mikeal Walker and McGloson all finish with nine points. McGloson added four blocks.
NMCC will play at Twin Rivers on Friday. Poplar Bluff will host Sikeston for its homecoming on Friday.
POPLAR BLUFF (70) -- Chris Stocks 17, Stacy Gipson 16, Lance Gray 13, Brandon Stuckenschneider 7, Ryan Brittingham 6, Joseph Eyler 4, Nick MaAnulty 2, Lucas Tibbs 2, Andy Whitworth 2, D'Marcus Patterson 1. FG 22, FT 20-30, F 21. (3-pointers: Brittingham 2. Fouled out: Stocks).
NMCC (80) -- Willie Jimerson 36, Armondo Thatch 9, Mikeal Walker 9, Darrin McGloson 9, Delontre Haney 8, Jashawn McDaniel 3, T.J. Clark 2, Asten Newsom 2, Devon Harrell 2. FG 24, FT 13-22, F 21. (3-pointers: Jimerson 4, Thatch 1, Walker 1. Fouled out: none).